With the excesses of Christmas and New Year looming over us, being physically active can be hugely beneficial to making us all feel better on the inside as well as on the outside.
There are many factors influencing our mental and physical health and wellbeing, but instead of treating the body and mind as two separate entities, they’re actually much closer connected than you may think.
Fun and enjoyable physical activity is widely known to improve our mental health at any time of year. Exercise can improve our mood by releasing feel-good hormones that boost self-esteem and release energy. Those who are active often report improved sleep and find it easier to manage stress, anxiety or intrusive thoughts. This is because doing something physical releases endorphins which helps us to stay on top of stress.
Interestingly, with NHS backing, mental health trusts are trialing projects that inspire young people to engage in mood-boosting activities and hobbies, offering surfing, rollerskating and even gardening in ten parts of England. Some aged 11-18 will be invited to take part in dance, music, sport and other exercise during the trial, which is being launched by University College London.
‘New Year, New You’ mentality
The changing of the year can be an excellent time to get physically active. Why not take the opportunity to approach 2023 with a ‘New Year, New You’ mentality and embrace physical activity, not necessarily to get fit but to help improve your mental health. It is a great idea to start building exercise into your regular routine. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start slowly and build up your stamina gradually. Any exercise is better than none and even a ten-minute walk can help to clear the mind and reduce stress.
Here are three ideas that anyone can try.
Swimming is a widely available and increasingly popular form of exercise that many find useful in helping to manage stress and anxiety. As a low impact workout, swimming in water gives you buoyancy, which means no pressure is put on your joints. This makes swimming a very safe form of exercise for all physical abilities.
In terms of maintaining emotional wellbeing, the benefits of swimming are so well-documented that GPs can offer so-called ‘blue therapy’ as a social prescription. Many fitness and leisure centres offer free sessions for those referred by a health professional. Alternatively, you might want to look into ‘wild swimming’ which involves taking a dip in a natural body of water. At home, natural swimming pools are fast growing in popularity. “Designed to offer the same kind of experience of swimming in a lake or the river, natural pools don’t require chemicals to run, relying instead on natural resources to keep the water clean and safe to swim in,” explains one leading pool builder.
Being in cold water is known to encourage a natural ‘high’ while time spent in nature has long been recommended for stress relief. If you’re new to wild swimming it’s best to join a group, which will help you to stay safe in the water as well as providing encouragement.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to be more physically active, and it’s also free. It’s easily one of the most underrated forms of exercise, both for its physical and mental benefits. It’s a lower impact exercise than running, meaning it can be done for longer periods of time. Walking improves fitness and heart health, alleviates depression and fatigue, improves mood, lowers stress on joints and reduces pain, improves endurance, circulation and posture, among other things.
Walking in nature, specifically, was found to reduce ruminating over negative experiences, which increases activity in the brain associated with negative emotions and raises risk of depression. Ramblers Wellbeing Walks take place all over the UK and are a great way of experiencing the mood-boosting effects of being out in the fresh air. Walking as part of a group means you’ll benefit from social interaction while having the support of other people can also help in staying motivated and committed.
We all instinctively know that spending more time in the Great Outdoors improves our mental state of mind. Those who enjoy walking could consider joining a local group or sign up for a fundraising walk / run to raise money for a good cause.
Moving our bodies to music is one of the most natural things to do, and whether you prefer dancing on your own or being involved in a more formalised dance activity, dancing offers obvious physical and mental health benefits.Not only are you moving your body in a rhythmic way, getting a workout and burning calories, you’re also expressing feelings. What’s more, you’re taking a break from everyday tasks, with the physical movements acting like any other form of aerobic exercise, providing relief from stress and tension. As one expert explains, “dancing promotes the experience of ‘flow, which is an almost meditative state that allows the dancer to focus solely on the movements, music and rhythms instead of worries and stress.”
Finally, with the popular TV show Strictly Come Dancing gracing our screens and inspiring youngsters is well reported. As well as a mood enhancer, dancing can benefit our self-esteem and boost confidence through self-expression. Whether you simply put some music on in your kitchen and dance around your living room, or enroll in dancing classes, there’s a type of dance activity for every personal preference and physical ability.
Of course, there are many, many types of exercise out there that can be both enjoyable and beneficial to your health. Other great exercise options include maintaining mental balance through yoga or pilates, boxing and resistance training. Finally, if you don’t consider yourself to be a sporty person, don’t despair. Get out into the garden and discover the positive mental health impact of regular exercise without even having to leave home!